Journey to IEDP 2.3: What’s Your Purpose?

The Journey to IEDP series was created to give readers an understanding of the myriad experiences that have led us to the IEDP. For prospective students, we hope to answer questions of how and why we decided to come to the IEDP, what the decision-making process of applying to and deciding among offers was like, and how the IEDP has aligned with our goals and expectations since we’ve matriculated into the program. This blog series will show how some of our cohort-mates have navigated these questions and more.

Aishwarya is a first year student in the IEDP, originally from Mumbai, India. After completing her undergraduate degree in Mass Media and Advertising, Aishwarya worked in the education sector of India with Teach For India, and Global Education Solutions, where she committed herself to the vision of education equity for all children. She also worked with school students in the geo-politically conflicted region of Kashmir. Aishwarya is also interested in childhood education, curriculum and pedagogy, and socio-emotional learning.

The Beginning

When I was completing my undergraduate degree in Mass Media & Advertising in Mumbai, India, I realized that what I was learning and preparing myself for seemed to lack purpose. Around this time, I came across the Teach For India (TFI) Fellowship that promoted itself to be improving education quality and equity in the country, and it allowed me to have an opportunity to work in one of the most under-resourced schools and classrooms in Mumbai. This was a significant shift from what I had been studying— I had never envisioned myself teaching elementary-school children. It was a difficult reality to accept for my family, given the widespread view in India that looks down on teaching as a profession. By the end of my two-year experience with TFI, I realized how grave inequity in education is in India. After the end of my fellowship, I took a job working with an educational consultancy group that promoted technology in education, Global Education Solutions. During my time there, I really started realizing the need to educate myself formally in the field of education.

A Frustrating Context

In India, people consider working towards development as plain “social work,” as giving back to society, and believe that you can accomplish developmental and educational goals just from charity and volunteering. However, while working with students, teachers, school administrators and community stakeholders, I learned that education and development work is based on understanding complex systems, underlying societal problems, and requires a critical thoughtfulness to address these challenges. It was frustrating to see how people would undervalue development work, believing it to be something that can be done by anyone without requiring any formal education or experience. It became increasingly difficult for me to explain why I do what I do and how development work is more than their perceived notions of surface level social work. Through my work with schools from both high- and low-income contexts in Mumbai, I realized my own limits in being able to drive positive change. This realization only grew stronger when I moved to the conflicted region of Kashmir and worked with students, schools and communities who have faced violent oppression for years.

The Seeking

My interest in pursuing education and development was non-mainstream in India, so I didn’t personally know anyone who could guide me in the process of looking for relevant courses. Therefore, I started how everyone in my place would start: Google! I didn’t really know what courses to exactly look for, and so I started with very generic keywords like “Master’s courses in education, development”. To be honest, I originally wanted to study in the context of my country, but the limited options and nascent nature of the institutions and courses back home did not fully convince me to take the leap. I started looking for study abroad options and Google helped me find the International Educational Development Program (IEDP) at Penn GSE along with similar programs at Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford. I still did not have enough clarity on what I was looking for in these programs, but reading about the program descriptions, classes offered, faculty members and their backgrounds and alumni was the beginning of putting the pieces together for myself. What I did know for sure was that I wanted to work towards improving education equity by working with school systems, students, communities, and other diverse stakeholders.

Application prep!

The Deciding

In order to make sure that the program I was applying for was worth the huge financial and time investments, I spent around three to four months in deciding on the right program. I compared the pros and cons of different programs, reached out to alumni to ask about their experience, and continued to research about how a program like IEDP would contribute to my academic and professional goals. The IEDP at Penn GSE seemed like a better fit for me as it matched with many of my needs and expectations: flexibility in choosing different classes, equal focus on theory and application, a diverse and inclusive cohort, professors who were professionals from fields I have an interest in, and of course, the internship opportunity!

The Journey Now & Ahead

This is my second semester in the program and it is difficult to comprehensively explain my learning experience so far. I have taken a variety of classes from International Social Work to Early Childhood Education, from policy analysis in the required Proseminar to Curriculum and Pedagogy in Developing Contexts. Through my classes, I have been able to broaden my perspective and expand from a country-specific focus to a larger international focus. I am no longer thinking about education and development in only one region, but preparing myself with a vision for quality education for all and everywhere.  It has not been easy and maybe that is why it matters—it is worthwhile to be here. The amount of global exposure through classes, curriculum, professors and classmates I have received so far is incomparable. Not only have I enriched my theoretical knowledge, but also I have been challenged to think critically and analytically in order to do effective and ethical work in education and development. The coursework is heavy, and the learning system is entirely different from how it is back home, so as an international student, the experience is both overwhelming and exciting. I am learning to learn all over again and although I sometimes find myself questioning my capabilities, I believe that I am growing everyday with my experience here. I am understanding the deep complexities of work in development, while simultaneously building my ability to have dialogues about it with people who are not familiar with our field of education and work.

Glimpses of my learning outputs (assignments, term papers, etc.)

Through my journey at IEDP, I have been able to strengthen my belief in my purpose of building a more equitable, just and compassionate society through sustainable methods that are empowering for people to drive change in their own capacities. It has been an arduous journey filled with challenges and learning, but I would not have it any other way!

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